World's Largest Digital Audio Broadcast System Launched Across Africa

Last week, WorldSpace announced that it has launched what it describes as "the world's largest digital audio broadcast system." The new system is based on a satellite radio service that recently began transmitting a wide array of multilingual radio programming across the entire African continent.

According to WorldSpace, its AfriStar satellite is gearing up to supply more than 25 channels of news, music, entertainment, and educational programming. The company claims that each of three beams from the solar-powered satellite will cover an enormous territory (14 million square kilometers), and together will cover all of Africa and the Middle East. Listeners will use special radios to receive the WorldSpace signal.

The digital service is free, and WorldSpace says listeners can choose news from CNN International or Bloomberg, or African regional radio from South Africa's Kosmos Digital, the Kenya Broadcasting Company, Egyptian Radio and Television, Media 1 of Casablanca, Radio Sud of Dakar, and others. Programming is broadcast in several languages, including English, Afrikaans, French, and Arabic. In addition to these sources, the company has studios in London and Washington, DC for creating its own original programming.

Noah A. Samara, WorldSpace Chairman and CEO, reveals that "for 10 years we've worked toward this day. For the first time, crystal-clear radio programming is being heard in areas that until now have been under-served by traditional radio sources. This validates our long-held belief that a critical need exists for high-quality programming that reaches a much wider geographic audience than with today's conventional analog radio systems. Ultimately, our programming partners may be able to reach as many as one billion people through our broadcast system."

Hitachi, JVC, Panasonic, and Sanyo have designed and manufactured the special receivers, which feature the flat antennas needed to receive the WorldSpace service. The companies report that more than 30,000 receivers have been manufactured and are being sold through the manufacturers' retail outlets, as well as through additional distribution channels arranged by WorldSpace. Plans call for approximately 100,000 additional receivers to be delivered to the continent by the end of the year. In addition to battery and wall-plug powered radios, WorldSpace says it also holds a 10% stake in the Freeplay Energy Holdings Limited company of South Africa, which makes wind-up radio technology. The company says research is ongoing for using this feature in future WorldSpace radios.

While the WorldSpace signal can reportedly be received anywhere in Africa and the Middle East, the company says it will concentrate its sales and distribution efforts in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal in October and November, followed shortly thereafter by Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, and Morocco. The company says a second satellite, AsiaStar, is scheduled for launch next February; AmeriStar will follow later in 2000 and will cover the Latin American and Caribbean markets.